Episode 311 - Riley Hollingsworth - K4ZDH Transcript
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Welcome to the QSO Today podcast. I’m Eric Guth 4Z1UG; your host.
Riley Hollingsworth, K4ZDH, started his ham radio career in Rock Hill, South Carolina, in 1960, proceeded through law school to a career at the Federal Communications Commission, the FCC. Riley was a part of the evolution of the FCC as it dealt with the new communications technologies including paging, cellular, PCS, and amateur radio. K4ZDH tells his amateur radio story as well as his impact on the amateur radio service through his career at the FCC.
Yes, I sure am.
Riley, thanks for joining me on the QSO Today podcast. Can we start at the beginning of your ham radio story? When and how did it start for you?
With me, it started with a little short wave radio that my uncle had. I think it was one of those Zeniths. It wasn’t a Space Spanner, but it was one of the bigger Zenith radios. He would tune around the frequencies with me and we would hear some ham radio operators. I ended up getting a Knight Kit Space Spanner radio kit for, I think, $19.95 which I still have to this day. I am looking at it now. And that was in 1960. I built that and heard ham operators. And then one day he said that I know an amateur operator here in town. I’ll take you over there and meet him. My uncle didn’t have a license himself but he knew a couple of ham operators. So he took me over to meet a fellow. As it turns out, this fellow was Mars Hall, in Rock Hill, South Carolina. And he had the Collins outfit from the sixties. They called them grey boxes of black boxes. But once you’ve seen a station of full Collins like that with the big amplifier that was approximately the size of our refrigerator. You don’t ever forget that. So I immediately talked to him about getting a license. He took me to my first hamfest, which was in Shelby, North Carolina, at the state park there. In a few months I had my license, and I was able to learn the code pretty fast then, thanks to his practice with me. And then I was a very active ham operator until college. I got out of it for a couple of years. Then got back into it right before law school. And when I got out of law school, I decided to go with the FCC. Had a chance to go to Columbia, South Carolina.
Don’t tell the whole story because I have to ask you questions along the way. Right?
Gotcha. Alright. Alright. Good.
OK, so you got your first license. Do you remember Morris Hall’s call sign?
W4CX, I believe.
Would you say that he was your first Elmer?
Yeah. I had two or three Elmers all at the same time. They were really, really helpful. And I had Grady Horton, K4?ZG, my main Elmer. I guess that I learned most of my code from him.
Did you belong to any amateur radio clubs as a teenager?
No, I took the classes they had at a local club had offered. But, I wasn’t a member of the club.
I think that I read somewhere that your first license was in 1961. What was your call sign?
KN4ZDH was my first call sign.
But there was a problem, wasn’t there, when you father read the first license?
I was working in a little country store and gas station. And my license was dated July 20, 1960. That’s when I first got my novice license. So, anyway, my dad calls me at the store, and said “your license came, and it says ‘novice’”. So, I said “what is the call sign?” And so in those days there were manually typed. The way this was typed the ‘Z’ in the ZDH was typed too low, and it looked like a ‘7’. He said that it’s ‘KN47DH’. And I’m thinking “oh, no. They messed up my call sign.” I won’t be able to get on. I will have to contact the FCC. But when I got home and looked at it, I could tell that it was KN4ZDH. And my first contact that night was on 80 meters with a fellow in Richmond. Earl Savage, a fellow in Richmond, Virginia. And he took special pains to slow down, and we talked for quite a long time. And then I got a (QSL) card from him. Years and years later, this was in 1960. In 1999 when I got back into amateur radio big time, I located Earl Savage. He still lived in Richmond. He was in a nursing home. But still lucid, and he had been a teacher, he was a retired teacher. I should have known that, considering the amount of time that he spent with me. But I never forgot that first contact. I think the old time people like myself never forget the first contact. I don’t know about newer licensees, because they can make thousands more contacts now than we could in those days with crystal control and AM transmitters. And so forth.
Do you remember your first rig?
Ah, yeah. First rig was an E.F. Johnson Challenger. I’m looking at it right now. I still have it. And a Hallicrafters SX-110. That was the first rig that I had. Of course, some ham operators loaned me, I think it was a DX-60 or something like that. And a basic receiver. But the first rig that I got myself was the E. F. Johnson Challenger. And the Hallicrafters SX-110.
And what’s the current rig?
Ah, current rig. I have a Yaesu FT-920 and I have a Kenwood TS-520. I did get the Icom 7300 recently, in which I use most of the time. And I have some Drake equipment. Drake 2NT, and a 2B and 2C, only Drake equipment. And when I traded the Challenger, I got a Valiant and when I traded the Valiant I got an HT-37 on side-band, which I still have.
So you have multiple operating positions, right? In your shack?
Yes, I do.
How did you divide them up?
Well, I have three different old desks. On one desk I have an amplifier. The FT-920. The Yaesu FT-920 has always been my favorite rig. I think they stopped making it too early. It was a rig, ahead of its time, with sampling, the pulsing circuit that came out in other rigs later on. The adventish desk, which is the Drake tube rigs. The 2B and 2C. And the HD-37. Now, a good friend of mine in South Carolina who is 96, recently called, I think last year, said I got a Collins 75-A4 that’s been restored. I’m trying to thin out my equipment. I don’t know what is going to happen in the next few years. So, I’d like for you to come get this thing if you would. So with the HD-37 I’m using the Collins 75-A4. Which by coincidence or by chance was done by Howard Mills, the Collins restoration guy down in Harper’s Ferry, West Virginia. So, it’s a beauty.
Did I see in a picture that you might have and S-Line 2?
No. At one time I had an S-Line. A 75S-3 maybe. But I am not sure. For a brief time. But S-Line was something I used to daydream from the Allied Radio catalogs. It would show the Collins S-Line there, and of course I could never have afforded one. But the beam that I have, A T-833 beam, which I got from Allied Radio in 1961, And I got the TA-33 beam, a hundred feet of coax, and a hundred feet of rotor cable, and an AR-22 rotor, for $125. I’m still using the beam. It’s out back and I’ve had to replace the traps a couple of times, and I know that there are probably better antennas, but I am attached to it. I will never take that thing down. That will look good when I go down, I guess.
In 1961, $130 was a month’s salary for a lot of people.
That was a big price then. But when you look at what they cost now, particularly with cable and everything.
Almost a month’s salary.
Did ham radio play a part in the choices that you made for you education and career?
Yeah, it did, really. Ham radio taught me that I did have an ability in technical things, a little bit, anyway. I wasn’t good in math. I think that I would have been better at math had it been taught differently. But, anyway, ham radio taught me that I could do technical things. I really enjoyed it. And so, when I got out of law school, I wanted to go to the FCC. I had a choice of going into the FCC or going into law practice with my cousin down in South Carolina. But he told me one day, he said you can start tomorrow if you want to. But I want to tell ya, I do divorces, sewer easements and taxes. And if you think you will be fascinated by that you can start tomorrow. And I said that I think I will go to the FCC for a couple of years and see how that is. I planned to stay three years and every year I liked it better and better. So, I ended up retiring from the FCC. And the highlight from that, I had some very good hearing from that, the explosion of cellular and land mobile radio. Which was interesting, to cable TV area. My favorite part was when I got to start or restart the amateur radio enforcement program, which had been dormant for twelve years.
It’s my understanding, though, that in the mid-eighties, you were a Nader’s Raider. What made you a Nader’s Raider and what did you do there?
Well, I was interested in it because he was, they were studying Byssinosis, it’s called brown lung disease. From the textile mills in the Carolinas. I had read about it. My Grandfather had worked for the Victoria Textile Mill in Rockville, South Carolina. He came home every day with cotton dust. So, we grew up in a textile area and I think in Rockville, South Carolina they had five or six mills at the time. All cotton mills. And so I just wrote a letter to Nader and . . .
That’s Ralph Nader that you are referring to right?
He was a big consumer advocate in sixties and seventies. Right?
Yes, yes. He was a big deal. The Nader’s Raiders were a big deal. So, I wrote him and got a letter back from somebody in the office there, saying coincidentally, we want to look at all of the textile mills in the Carolinas. If you are willing to do it, we want to see if you can get into see, interview some workers and stuff. And so I took ‘em up on that. Most of the mills were very cooperative. I could go right into the mill and talk to the workers on the (mill factory) floor. Very, very interesting summer. It went into the next summer, a little bit. I was exploring some North Carolina mills. I went to every textile mill in South Carolina that summer.
What was the biggest take-away from working for Ralph Nader and making those interviews there?
I think the biggest take-away was how hard these folks worked in the textile mill, especially the shift workers. And at that time, Brown Lung disease had been recognized in England for fifty or sixty years. But it was not recognized in the United States. Black Lung disease, that coal miners get, was recognized as a workman’s compensation injury or illness. But Brown Lung disease wasn’t. That’s what I was interested in. The textile mills were very cooperative, actually.
I’m interested in how the story turned out. Was Brown Lung disease eventually recognized as a result of your efforts?
Yes. As a result of a lot of effort. I didn’t look all over the country, but textile mills were very prevalent in the South. And some years later it became a compensable disease.
I actually never heard of Brown Lung disease and I would never would have thought that working in a textile mill would have been dangerous. Now are we talking about people who are actually making fabric there in that, where this occurs, or is this with people who are working with fabric and are making clothes, for example?
It’s called Byssinosis. It’s earlier in the process. The problem is when they cut open the cotton bale. The cotton fiber and dust that comes out of the cotton bale. That’s where the Byssinosis is. Those who are running the weaving machines or whatever they call them, it’s not there. It’s where the bales come in and they are cut open. And that’s what my grandfather did. Coincidentally. I have vivid memories of his coming home from the mill every day just covered in cotton dust. In fact, he had an air compressor out behind the house and he would blow all the cotton dust off of him before he came in the house. It was a rule that my grandmother had.
So the dust that we are talking about is the dirt from the field that was also on the cotton. Right? They were opening the bales before the cotton was washed, and was spun and turned into fabric.
Right. And I don’t know if it was the dirt. I think it was the particles from the cotton and the seed. After you cut it open it has to be separated and refined a little bit before you can do anything with it. Or polished I should say.
I learn something new all the time. I grew up in Southern California, so we didn’t know anything about cotton in those days. I frankly don’t know anything about it now. This is quite interesting to me. You said that you went to law school. Where did you go to law school?
Wake Forest University in Winston Salem, North Carolina.
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And why the FCC? Was the FCC recruiting at your law school in those days? How did you think that you might want to work for them?
They were recruiting and I was still very interested in amateur radio and still active as much as I could be. I didn’t have any equipment at law school, but I would come home every couple of weekends, every four or five weekends. I would get my equipment set up and make a few contacts. So they came through the colleges recruiting and I decided to see what it was all about. And at that time, cable was really big, really about to explode. And the land mobile industry, paging, two-way radio, and then later on, trunking systems. So it looked like it would be very interesting. I got to travel a lot. Our job was to help the small business and to figure out how in the world to navigate through the regulations. I always liked that because I saw a lot of tiny companies become really big companies. And I just stayed, year after year. I had good bosses, good cases, and good experiences. I really liked it.
Let’s go there for a second. I actually got my start in land mobile in the seventies. In the late seventies, the 800 MHz band was opening up. I think I said this for the last few weeks on the QSO Today podcast that (at that time) we weren’t even sure that 800 MHz would work for land mobile. It was like this experiment that was beginning to happen. How did that look at the FCC when these new bands were opening up? And this idea of trunk radio was starting? What was your role in that and how did it look from your perspective.
Well, it looked like it had great potential in the cities. It just exploded as you said, and we saw a lot of small companies, a lot of ma and pa operations that were into two way paging, get into 800 MHz. My job was, after a while, a number of companies would file for additional channels, claiming that they had a certain number of mobiles. And I don’t remember the exact numbers, but if you had a certain number of customers, you could get five channels, if you had a certain number (of customers) you could get ten channels or fifteen. It became apparent that some of these companies could not have that many customers. But having more channels gave them a leg up on their competitors. My first job was to look at the “loading” of major cities in the US. And take back channels where the loading had been doctored up. Falsified. For example, if you are in a city and you are looking at the land mobile licensees in the trunk system, and they’re 175 mobiles for a florist company, you know something is wrong. Probably not a city in America, maybe New York City, maybe Los Angeles, that has 175 florist trucks running around. So we audited those. And got back a lot of the channels to give to smaller businesses that couldn’t get channels because they were all taken. So we helped to balance out the market. So to speak.
I seemed to think that the FCC changed or evolved about this time. Maybe when cellular and PCS started. When spectrum was then being sold at auction. I don’t recall that in the land mobile industry that you had to pay a lot for a license.
No, you didn’t.
UHF channels or trunk channels, But it seems to me that the FCC changed over that period as the big players came in.
It didn’t cost much to get a license. But somebody would get a license and then we would notice that it was quickly sold or transferred. Or assigned, is the correct term. And we started seeing some of these cases and they were getting vast amounts of money for this. So, we thought if they’re going to get the channels and then sell them to the highest bidder, then maybe the FCC should do that. Just auction them off in the first place. So the money goes to the taxpayers and the Treasury. So that was the impetuous behind the auctioning. So many people were getting a five channel block and immediately reselling it. All we were doing was granting these channels to resellers. And that led to auctions which seemed like a very ridiculous idea at the time. I remember people laughing at it. But of course, auctions were the big thing and that’s how they got assigned later on.
Tens of millions of dollars were raised by the FCC, weren’t they, by these auctions. First for these trunk channels, but then later with PCS and cellular?
Yeh, there’s been hundreds of dollars raised by these auctions.
And how did that impact the FCC? It seems that as that was happening the FCC was getting smaller?
And how did that impact the FCC it seems like as that was happening the FCC was getting smaller.
RILEY_K4ZDH: ( 0:21:54)
Over the years yeah the FCC was getting smaller but the auctions they had some very smart people handling the auction process which was computerized uh after a while, got started. So the auctions were a great success and uh it worked the whole process just worked. At the same time though you started getting pressures to reduce the size of government. So at the same time the FCC was getting smaller now it could get smaller in the licensing area because that was automated. Auctions were more or less automated but in recent years you've seen it get smaller in the enforcement area which is not a good development. I remember that like every major city in Orange County the FCC had a huge property in the middle of the county where they had their antennas and their monitoring stations. And I think that probably every major city had an FCC monitoring station.
Was this reduction in government the reason that these went away?
RILEY_K4ZDH: ( 0:22:46)
Yeah just we're coming off of 20 years now of reducing government you know big government to little government and something's got to give. They have half the number of field offices that they had even uh even 10 or 12 years ago. But the thing is the huge real estate that you saw was the antenna system. Now the FCC still has its uh 12 or 13 antenna fields around the country it's just that with uh with the evolution of computers and the Intel chip and so forth they didn't need to have somebody sitting right there doing the monitoring anymore. All of the fields are tied into the high frequency direction funding center in Columbia Maryland. And so you don't need all those field offices just for the antennas but you do need bigger field offices in bigger cities which they are suffering uh in in that regard because they have half the number of engineers and half less than half the number of field offices. But the monitoring still continues so the issues of spectrum enforcement or the issues of abuse on radio frequencies has not gone away. In fact maybe it's increased. It hasn't gone away. You would think it'd be a lot worse than it is but in regard to amateur frequencies some of it is the sign of the times it's just the way society is today. People are more rude and they're selfish they're thin skinned and sometimes when you're trying to do somebody a favor they get suspicious. And so you see that attitude in shopping centers or at the beach or whatever people are just different these days. For example 25 years ago if somebody got an official observer notice uh from the league about something wrong with their signal they would be grateful because they would think well you're glad I heard from the league rather than the FCC. But in today's society even when you're trying to do somebody a favor they will you know they will often take offense. We didn't have road rage in those days and all the crazy things that we have it's just people are different these days. And so I think that's the main reason for some of the conduct problems on the amateur bands mostly 75 mostly 75 meters. But overall considering the number of licensees we have overall everything works really good.
You were saying earlier that you became involved in amateur radio enforcement how did that happen and what happened there?
I worked in the land mobile area and then later moved to the Gettysburg office to work more specifically in land mobile licensing and just general licensing. We had meetings at headquarters about once a week so I was down for a meeting. And Rich Lee the enforcement bureau chief showed me a letter that the league had written and uh I wasn't all that active at that particular time maybe I made maybe you know 20 contacts a year or something. But I was focused on other things but uh the letter implored the commission to get back into amateur radio because nothing had been done for 12 years. And Rich said what's this about and I said well it's been a 12-year hiatus in this service because of the explosion of land mobile and trucking and cellular and everything else they just haven't had the staff. And he said well how many amateur licensees are there? And I think at that point there's about 650 to 700 000 somewhere along in there and I told him. He said we can't have a large group of licensees thinking they're getting no service from the FCC no enforcement I’m going to look into this. And so uh he did and about a month later he called and said I’m still looking into this and I can't get anything going would you be willing to see what you can do with this program and to get enforcement started? And I said I would but I'd be very interested in doing it but I did not want to leave the Gettysburg office and I said I don't know if it can be done Rich because 12 years is a long time to have no enforcement. And uh he said well I'll make a deal with you he said you get it straightened out I won't be breathing down your neck I won't micromanage you and uh if you can't do it you'll be cooking squirrel under a bridge somewhere later on. So that's a great deal Rich I'll take you up on that. So uh I did it. He basically left me alone and of course it was like um it was the reason it went so well was because nothing had been done. I mean if you lived beside an old house for 12 years and nobody had maintained it or painted it anybody could come rambling up there and paint it and improve it and it would look wonderful. So I started from zero and we had 99.9 cooperation from the amateur service and uh so it was just the right time in the right place and they were welcoming enforcement because nothing had been done for so long. Well what did enforcement look like to amateur radio operators when you came on and re-initiated the program there at the FCC? Well it was a lot of deliberate interference an uh arguing you had different factions on 75 meters and you had a faction on 20 meters and just a lot of things that if somebody that wasn't an amateur operator well any even an amateur operator you'd listen to it you'd be embarrassed and you'd think this is the amateur service it sounds more like the end days of the CB service. So it was the broken window theory you know if you let the windows get broken out of an old building it just gets worse and worse but if you do minimum maintenance on it. And uh show up and ask what's going on and talk to this group one on one and say look you guys can do this but do you really want to do it if you're having that much if you're having that much trouble with the frequency look at your radio and you'll see one big knob and that's to change frequencies. Every radio that's ever been made in the amateur service has one big knob and just don't get into this because if you do we're coming after you because we can find other violations in there. And I think just having some attention paid to it would made a world different I think you have a presentation up on YouTube or something called one big knob is that right I think so yeah.
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Do you have any enforcements in the amateur division that might interest the listeners?
Something that was incredibly outside of what we would think that would happen in the amateur bands. I have a lot of enforcement stories I won't bore you with them but I think the one that I remember the most is now when I started listing heavily on the amateur bands again. As I said when I got started in this again I wasn't that active but I was appalled at what things sounded like and how people acted and deliberately jammed each other and so forth and it bothered me all through the weekends. It was never off and I would monitor a lot over the weekend but it ruined a lot of weekends. But one Friday afternoon I was sitting there particularly aggravated over a case in Georgia and I’m thinking now this is probably going to ruin my weekend maybe I should just try to call the guy and talk to him one-on-one because that works a lot that works well a lot of times. If you can talk to somebody one-on-one so I decided to do it because I know I didn't do it would probably ruin my whole weekend. So about 5 30 uh I called down and his wife answered the phone and I said I'd like to I told her who it was and I'd like to speak to the uh amateur radio operator there Mr. so-and-so and she said well he gets home at six uh what's this about and so I guess my better judgment I told her that we got a ton of complaints we had tape submitted and so forth of the conduct that was coming from the station and so forth and the deliberate interference and uh so forth. And there was a little bit of a pause and I said just have him call me when he comes in if you would. Give him a number and there was a little bit of a pause and she said well he won't have to call you and I said well I really would like for him to call me I just need to talk to him for a few minutes and she said you won't need to talk to him because as I said he gets home about six and I can guarantee you that after 6 15 tonight you will never have this problem again. And we didn't and I never heard anything from him or about him after that so I don't know what she did but it cure the problem. And then I found out that the best enforcement tool in the world sometimes is a wife or girlfriend standing in the door of the radio room unnoticed. And he didn't have to check a police blotter for his local neighborhood to see if anything happened that night. I often wondered whatever happened to him but I’ll take enforcement at that. We'd take enforcement any way we could get it so we just left it alone but as far as I know he was never on the radio again. He could be buried in the backyard for all I know something like that.
How did that end up evolving and does the FCC still enforce this way?
Today well it unlike I say 99 percent of amateur operators wanted enforcement. They were very appreciative of it because they had been neglected for so many years. So uh it evolved and just more self-policing which is what we're supposed to be doing anyway and people just got more conscious of it more aware of it and it's it's like it's like the seat belt. When they came out you didn't they wouldn't pull you over for not wearing a seat belt it had to be some other violation. But I noticed and I did the same thing. That when people would see a police car they would naturally reach over and feel and make sure they have the seat belt on, It's just the awareness that enforcement is out there just the general awareness changes a lot of attitude. And if they get had the feeling that the bands were neglected by the FCC then why should they care about. So just raising the awareness of what the service is supposed to be doing and what it's supposed to be accomplishing and knowing that somebody cared about it from the entity that licensed it in the first place I think makes the difference.
And does the FCC still have an enforcement bureau?
Oh yes definitely. They're stretched pretty thin, they have a lot more issues. It's not just about RF anymore. If any listeners want to see just briefly what the FCC does on any given week just go to FCC.gov and search the daily digest and you'll see a whole page of all the actions that the FCC did uh the day before or in the days before and you'd be amazed at the things on there that aren't just about RF anymore. They have a huge responsibility, just in non-RF areas. And those on RD areas would be like telecommunications the internet things like that right yeah robocalls, a universal service fund fraud and things like that. it's not just about monitoring.
I’m lucky I don't get robocalls but when I visit my father in America these calls come in every night there could be six or seven calls every night what can people in America do about robocalls is there anything they can do
Well their band in fact the Supreme Court uh just ruled that they that you can ban robocalls and they did not allow the exception for calls from the government or bill collecting so robocalls are banned. And there are some very huge forfeitures or fines that are given to these robocallers. I personally like the robo detector program on my cell phone that would put in. It was a little program where when a robocall came in I don't know exactly how it detected robocalls but it would be some celebrity like uh share saying oh you've gotten me right during my I’m on a break in my concert just give me a few minutes and I'll get right back to you or I'll be a little kid on there asking a lot of questions just something that took up so much time from the robocall that they end up disconnecting but uh robocalls are not legal and um the court Supreme Court just upheld that you know this week. Actually is there like some international enforcement because those robocalls could actually be coming from offshore I don't know how they do it they work with the telephone company and the cellular carriers.
Yeah unfortunately my father just doesn't answer the phone anymore so it's kind of like made the phone practically useless.
Yeah it's very annoying now we don't have them to that degree here nowadays they've been getting less and less. In fact the two programs I have on the program I have on my phone hasn't detected anything in the last six or eight months so they're being reduced a lot but the forfeitures the funds are huge just like in the old days of uh acts going out to people.
Out of curiosity do people operating cellular phones in America do they pay for air time in both directions so if you receive an incoming call are you actually paying for their time?
No not anymore, in fact calls are free and all you're really paying for is cellular data. I think and of course the unit itself but there's unlimited long distance unlimited long distance and the cellular data plans are very generous so I have the same phone bill every month and uh in fact last summer I made about 300 calls in the period of two to three months setting up this volunteer monitor program yeah my bill stayed the same.
You just mentioned the volunteer monitor it was my next question, what is the volunteer monitor program?
Well the uh we gradually cut back the staff. And the league for 50 years has had the official observer program so the FCC suggested in 2017 that maybe the league would want to beef up the official observer program and re-brand it and have better training and uh better management. And in exchange for that the FCC would work with the volunteer monitors and take cases that they referred and handled them on an expedited basis. Because they knew that they no longer had the resources to send field engineers out to monitor for several days trying to get enforcement evidence. So the league board approved it and the volunteer program is the old official observer program on speed so to speak. And uh the deal is that we have better training better coordination a fewer number we have 195 volunteer monitors that is uh much more manageable than having five or six hundred official observers although out of that five or six hundred there were maybe 200 250 that were active so the league helped in the training and the league participates in uh webinars that we have for the volunteer monitors. And what we do uh is just voluntarily monitor the bands and serious rule discrepancies. We send the notice out, an advisory notice first and if it continues two or three times then it goes to the FCC and they promise that when a case comes from the volunteer minor program they'll give it expedited action. So that it doesn't just get in queue in the online complaint process and also they wanted uh re-branding as I said so we totally changed the name of it we have a volunteer council volunteer examiner so we decided we should probably call it a volunteer monitor program but we also send out in the FCC one of this good operator notices which are recognitions that we do quarterly of 10 or 15 cases of outstanding operation. And uh the last quarter was the first time we had done that the quarter ending at the end of March. And as it turns out several of those getting the good operator notices were teenagers that had just gotten into amateur radio. So we were pretty happy about that. Now are you using some kind of technology. Now I mean I think I remember the official observers would actually send out handwritten postcards or ARRL volunteer monitor stations are actually using some kind of infrastructure now to make their reports some larger system generates those messages. It's not automated yet. It would be worth not for the shutdown you know from the corona-virus they're sent out by hand, but they are written notices and uh where we can we deal with the apparently parent discrepancy by one-on-one contact as I said earlier, that seems to work in a lot of cases, or by email if we can find an email address and uh in every case but one we've gotten a quick response back saying uh you know I appreciate you pointing this out to me, I thought I could do uh ft8 on a certain frequency as a technician, now I understand I can't, or something like that so uh I think it's working very well because we have uh dozens and dozens of cases where we contacted the person and pointed out some element of the operation such as out of band and they immediately responded and the problem stopped and that's the whole point of enforcement. So uh we have a couple of cases that we have referred to the FCC and they're doing the direction finding to locate the interference and so forth but overall we've been able to handle it in-house which is the whole point because amateur radio is supposed to be self-policing.
Up until recently you were the ARRL Atlantic division vice director
How important are the regional directors to amateur radio around the US and what is their role?
Well there are directors, if when you say regional director that is a term used for the FCC office. There are three of them three regional directors so uh the league's directors are just that division directors. You have 13 divisions such as the Atlantic division and the southwestern division and so forth and they all have vice directors and the directors and their section managers are the ones that do all the work and they go to all the amateur meetings, the hamfest, the club meetings and uh talk to the amateur operators and listen to their issues and what they want. And then they meet twice a year. Although they're communicating all the time, they have board meetings twice a year in Newington. They're at least league headquarters this year will be by Zoom. I’m sure and they decide in the course of amateur radio and if they get a lot of interest from certain amateurs about a different area of amateur radio or a different license class or different privileges or something, they work on that. I know for example there's an issue with things there's an issue with a number of homeowners associations not allowing amateur radio antennas. So it's the directors and the league that deal with that and try to deal with congress and the FCC and so forth. So the directors are very important because really there's nobody else representing amateur radio operators except the American Radio Relay League.
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Let's go to homeowners associations. Did you have the homeowner’s association issues when you were at the FCC? Does the FCC really have any legal teeth over homeowners associations?
The issues were starting to come in because such a huge percentage of people. Now when they move they move into a housing development. But the FCC had PRB1 it was called which was a policy statement uh requiring uh reasonable accommodation to amateur radio antennas and then there's the Otard rule over the air devices where they have to be allowed. But the number of homeowner associations has exploded in the last 10 years and a lot of times what they do is one association copies another association's bylaws and rules. Somebody wants to start a housing development they get a copy of that and in so many cases it just blatantly or blindly doesn't allow any outside antenna. So that's a concern in the amateur radio service and uh they're working on that now to broaden PRB1. A lot of the homeowners associations are very cooperative once they understand what it is that amateur radio antenna doesn't mean it's a huge tower with a great big beam on top of it. An amateur radio antenna can be a wire entered so um they need to be educated a little bit too. And uh there's some effort to get Congress to recognize ham radio in the sense that you have to be allowed to put up an antenna for example. There's a flagpole law, a homeowners association can't prevent you from putting up a flagpole for the American flag. Now there's uh you know height limits and so forth but they want a similar, a lot of people want a similar law rule for amateur radio antennas just from a public service standpoint because as you know the internet is as fragile as it is fascinating but since amateur radio has no central infrastructure it can't be taken down. Power goes off you just run on the battery there's no infrastructure that will bring the whole thing down. Amateur radio really is the only fail-safe system there is sailor can easily be brought down and as you know the internet can but amateur radio is not because we have our individual stations, individual equipment and low power requirements and we can power, it can go off tomorrow where the internet can go completely down we can still talk all over the world.
Do you think the amateur radio community does a good job at transmitting (communicating to the public) the benefit and values of amateur radio to the general public?
I think they could do better. When I was in south Carolina everybody knew the amateur radio operators in town but now you have the internet you have cable and cellular and everything and they're they are not uh not so aware of it. Plus amateur radio operators are technically oriented (not people oriented.) And you saw the same thing with NASA. There were hundreds and hundreds of wonderful invention such as Teflon that came out of the NASA early days of the Apollo program and NASA programs but they're scientists and engineers and they work more on logic and they don't advertise themselves they're not in the public relations business so I don't think amateur radios operators really have really been as successful as they could be in publicizing the value of it to the general public.
Do you think that's the role of the ARRL?
It's a big role yes. And they sponsor numerous education programs in the schools and uh they have a teacher’s program where they will get teachers licensed and in science labs and so forth they support that they have. They work very closely with the STEM program science on technology engineering and math to factor in amateur radio.
What's your favorite mode
I like CW best. I guess just because I grew up with it that's the whole Zen of CW right exactly. I thought myself and I was often asked about whether eliminating the requirement of Morse code would do any damage to amateur radio. Well it didn't do any damage to it. I never noticed any difference in enforcement when the code was eliminated. But what it has done is make it a lot more interesting to a lot of people maybe the most people. And the people that make the code keyers and the automatic keyers and the adventures and the paddles and the straight keys they tell me that business is better than ever. And I think because there may be some analogy to the required reading list in high school. The best way to ruin a good book would be was to put it on the required reading and you're thinking oh no got to read this book but later in life you'd be drawn to that you would remember that and maybe you'd go get that book. But I think a lot of young people have interest in CW because they're getting a little bored with instant messenger and things like that and it's a it's a language that their peers don't know. But I've run into lots of young people that are just fascinated and very good in seed of the operation young people might be developing a glass wrist by using smartphones and typing with their thumbs right so yeah exactly. I ran into a 15 year old girl up in the Chambersburg area last year that was at 30 words a minute and she taught herself to SEND with her left hand so she could take notes at the same time she was doing code. But I just run into so many young people that are just fascinated with it and I noticed that uh of course we haven't had any lately because of corona-virus but at hamfest there always seems to be a lot of people around the tables and counters that are selling the uh and showing the uh paddles and the key or you know for Morse code and they're beautiful. Now I mean they're almost works of art thank god for CNC machines that's right that's right and I know and my ear you had the J38 if you were lucky and maybe you had a Vibraplex mechanical bug which I’m looking at one of those right here I never quite mastered it but now you go to these uh larger ham fest and there's all kinds of beautiful keys out there. You collect them because they're works of art more than things that you actually want to use.
I noticed you mentioned that you have Kenwood TS520. You almost have the same rigs on your desk that I have. Was that one of your original rigs and you just never got rid of it.
No it wasn't, uh the Kenwood, I bought the Kenwood at a hamfest I just always liked the 520 it was a legend and I like the dial readouts and so forth so I picked that up at a ham fest it was in that condition but I never had one earlier you know or had one as a younger person.
What do you think is the greatest challenge facing amateur radio now?
I think keeping the public or making the public aware of what it has to offer and drawing in more and more young people. I’m concerned about our demographics. We're just an aging population and we have to draw in younger people. And while it's true that you get some younger people in it and then they go to college they get married they get out of but they don't get into it until later in life it's just our average age bothers me somewhat I see the same thing in in these big ham meetings that I go to and I'd like to see the day when if you ask somebody who was under 20 to stand up it would be a huge number of people rather than a sprinkling of people throughout the audience. If you have the ability and you may actually which should we amateurs do to attract younger people or are we maybe the wrong guys to attract younger people. Well it's a continuing question that that the league deals with they work with the schools a lot. It's just that uh younger people have so many distractions these days from sports to cell phones to computers it's hard to get them interested and under to understand the capabilities of amateur radio. And people say well you can't talk all over all around the world with a cell phone well these kids do. They have Whats App and uh thanks to Facebook and things like that they a lot of them do know people in other countries so you can't just say look I can talk to China with this device here. It's got to be more than that and uh it comes from the science educational programs. For example out in Albuquerque New Mexico and the teachers out there and then the club had gotten the idea to get a group of kids licensed and teach them how to make a tracking receiver and transmitter and launch it on a high altitude balloon and uh with the video and everything. So I was out there the first time they did it was part of their STEM project and some people thought that it wouldn't work but they did it and the balloon went to 89 000 feet and then sent back beautiful pictures and they were able to track it and uh located when it came down and so forth things like that to interest them. It's too bad that the space program is somewhat limited because that was fascinating to a lot of kids as well.
Do you think multitasking is overrated?
I think there was a time when we used to think that a person who could multitask was a person who was kind of blessed. My sense is that we praise multitasking so much now but that what ends up happening is nobody ends up being a master of one thing exactly. I think that's true and I think science is showing that that multitasking it may seem efficient but it can be distracting in some areas as well and not being efficient and you're not paying full attention or even enough attention to any individual task.
What excites you the most about what's ham radio now?
The um new technologies. To see the interest that people have in the digital communications. I’m not into digital communications myself but the capability of these things and to talk all over the world very low power with a computer interface is just phenomenal. It seems like it changes every month you know one year there's PSK 31 the next year Joe Taylor develops ft8 and gives it to the world and everybody's fascinated with that JT8 now that aspect will draw in a lot of younger people. And I think the second thing is the capability of our equipment, the receivers, the digital signal processing is just phenomenal now. I mentioned earlier that I had a Challenger transmitter for CW and an SX110 and I set those up together a few years ago and tried to get on. They looked at my original logbook from 1960 and I made an awful lot of contacts on those two pieces of equipment and I don't know how we did it. When I listened today I don't know how in the world that we make all those contacts. And I loved it at the time made a lot of contacts. But I just couldn't do it today because I’m so used to the to the signal processing of our more modern receivers and the fact that the transceiver and the transmitter you can frequency hop all over the bands. And in those days you tended to stick to one or two frequencies and you had to of course if you were crystal control but you just didn't get on all the bands and I know with when I turn on even the FT 920 I'll check out 20 meters and see what that sounds like in 17 and then 40. uh 30 meters maybe and then pick one to get on but with our old mechanical equipment like the Drakes and uh Collins and the Hallicrafters, you wear the thing out jumping all over the bands to see what was on. But with our equipment now in a matter of a few minutes you can get a general assessment of all the bands especially with the computer programs that you can access that will show you the DX on any given band or the band conditions. Now the danger of the computer interfaces we don't want amateur radio to be dependent on the internet and I think it's done a good job of keeping its independence from that. But the internet is a wonderful tool and the signal processing and the computer screens and the uh spectrum analyzers and so forth we have amazing tools and it seems like every month there's another amazing thing that you can do in amateur radio it's mind-blowing. I think it is absolutely.
What advice would you give to newer returning hands to the hobby?
Well for the ones coming back into it I would say you're going to be absolutely amazed at the capabilities of the equipment now. Instead of 80 pounds for the transmitter to do 150 watts you can have 12 or 13 pounds for a 100 watt transceiver 100 watt transmitter and receiver that's digital and it's just then automatically tunes and it's just absolutely amazing you'd be amazed at uh or shocked at the capability of the new equipment and because of that it's a lot more fun you're not so restricted to a certain frequency or a certain band. And for the new people that are coming that are getting into um I would say just get on an experiment and you're going to make mistakes that's what amateur radio is about it's about learning. You're never going to get any in trouble making an honest mistake on amateur radio just get in there and explore everything you can and see what interests you the most and pursue that because there's dozens and dozens of modes and uh things to do from contesting to DX to CW, FT8 and PSK31 that's just a whole world of things to be interested in that's easy to do it,
Riley I think this is a great place for 73. What a pleasure it was to have you I know that we've been working on it for some time
Yeah it took a little while didn't it?
It did but it's okay it was worth every minute. I really appreciate your coming on the QSO Today podcast.
Well thank you Eric and I'll be glad to talk with you again anytime.
That concludes this episode of QSO Today I hope that you enjoyed this QSO with Riley. Please be sure to check out the show notes that include links and information about the topics that we discussed. Go to www.QSOtoday.com and put in K4ZDH in the search box at the top of the page.
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